18 August 2020


How to Use Zotero with Scrivener – Part 2 – This Time it’s Complicated

By Catherine Pope

August 18, 2020

Posted in Scrivener

In my previous post, I showed you a simple method of getting Scrivener and Zotero to work together. The method I’ll show you now is a lot more complicated, but it’s much better suited to documents with a lot of citations, e.g. a thesis or book. You’re going to need patience and perseverance.  This won’t be straightforward, but once you have everything set up, it should be a lot smoother.

I’ve developed this workflow using a PC running Windows 10. I haven’t tried it on any other operating systems, so I can’t guarantee it’ll work for you. And I can’t offer technical support or help you troubleshoot, either. Sorry. If you get stuck, please visit the Zotero Forums. There you’ll almost certainly find somebody with the answer. If you don’t enjoy faffing with technology, you should try the simple method instead.

Step 1 – Install LibreOffice

If you don’t already have it, you’ll need to install LibreOffice (an opensource alternative to MS Office). Zotero also used to support OpenOffice, but this is no longer compatible. You don’t actually need to use LibreOffice for anything other than linking Scrivener to Zotero.

Step 2 – Make sure you have the LibreOffice plugin for Zotero

Go to Preferences > Cite > Word Processors and look to see whether the plugin is installed. If not, you can click to install it there.

Step 3 – Download the RTF/ODF Scan plugin

Go to the website for RTF/ODF Scan. Right-click Download Add-on and choose Save link as….

RTF/ODF Scan for Zotero

Step 4 – Install the RTF/ODF Scan plugin

In Zotero, click Tools then Add-ons and click the cogwheel icon:

From here, choose Install Add-on From File. Find the file you downloaded, click install on the next pop-up window, then you should see the RTF/ODF-Scan add-on in your list.

Step 5 – Change Your Zotero Output Format

Now go to Zotero’s Export preferences and change the Default Output Format to Scannable Cite.

This adds a special format for citations you create in Scrivener. It’ll become clearer once we look at a few examples.

If you can’t see Scannable Cite as an option, install this file by right-clicking the link and saving it to the Zotero translator folder in your data directory.

Step 6 – Add Citations in Scrivener

In Zotero, copy the reference you need. The easiest way is to select it in your library, then press Ctrl+Shift+c. This copies your reference to the clipboard in the special Scannable Cite format.

In Scrivener, go to the place where you want to insert a citation. Press Shift+F5 to insert a footnote and then Ctrl+v to paste your citation. Here’s what it should look like:

Insert footnote in Scrivener

It looks horrible to the human eye, but trust me, Zotero will make sense of it in a moment.

Step 7 – Export Your Document as an ODT File

When you’ve finished adding citations, export your document as an ODT file (you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+x):

It’s very important that you choose this Open Office format, otherwise the next steps won’t work. This is why you need LibreOffice.

NB: Some users have reported that the footnotes don’t show up when they open the file in LibreOffice. The Scrivener support people say this is a problem with Windows. If it affects you, export your text file as RTF (Rich Text Format), open it in Word, then save it as an ODT file.

When testing this workflow, I kept encountering a Java runtime error (errrk). The solution for me was to install the Windows Offline (64-bit) JRE.

Step 8 – Review Your Document in LibreOffice

If you now open your document, it still won’t look pretty:

Zotero citations in OpenOffice

Fear not! It’s soon going to look a lot nicer. You can also tweak your scannable citations at this stage to add or remove information. For example, to include a page number you would use the following format:

 { | Waller, 2011 |p. 39 | |zu:406345:E2WU46XC} (you need a space between p. and the number)

To prepend text to your citation, use:

{ Cited in | Waller, 2011 | | |zu:406345:E2WU46XC}

And to suppress the author, just place a minus sign before his or her name:

 { | Waller, 2011 | | |zu:406345:E2WU46XC}

There are many more examples on the RTF/ODF-Scan plugin page.

Step 9 – Perform the ODF Scan

Return to Zotero. Click Tools > ODF Scan

On the next screen, make sure you choose ODF (to citations):

Next select the ODT document you exported from Scrivener and also specify where you want your scanned document to be saved.

Zotero scans through and replaces those odd pieces of code with citations in a new version of the document.

Step 10 – Behold Your Finished Document

Open the new document that Zotero has created. You should see some citations in place of the unfriendly placeholders. As this document is linked to your Zotero library, you can now edit citations, create a bibliography, or change your citation style.

My new document now includes the full citations:

Zotero citations in OpenOffice

Hopefully, yours does, too!

Here’s a quick video demo to show you each step:

This method is a little fiddly at first, and you have to follow the steps exactly, but it does mean that you can enjoy the benefits of both Zotero and Scrivener. I’d like to say a big thank you to Frank Bennett and Sebastian Karcher for developing the plugin. Sebastian also maintains a useful blog on Zotero.

If this is too geeky for your liking, you might prefer the simple method.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I can’t offer technical support. Please do add a comment, though, if anything is unclear or you have another solution to contribute.

Happy Scrivening.

Catherine Pope

About the author

Since completing her PhD in 2014, Catherine has supported thousands of researchers through to the finish line. Having enjoyed a varied career as a web developer, lecturer, and coach, Catherine now shares her skills and knowledge through PhD Progress.

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  1. Thanks a lot for this detailed description with screenshots!!! This worked for me. Took me a bit of time, as I had all the errors you mentionned – so thanks for including all solutions !! Actually the Java error mentioned in step 7occurred in step 2 (so I followed the instructions on step 7, actually you just need to go to java.com and choose download).
    And when I manually saved "scannable cite" into the zotero directory, it saved the file as .txt and I had to change the extension.
    Otherwise, everything fine. Thanks a lot.

  2. Thank you so much for excellent description! One thing I don't fully understand is whether one can only add the exact page one is quoting in Step 8 or already earlier (in Step 6)? If one can only add it in step 8 that would be a lot of extra-work, wouldn't it?

    I'm really sorry if this should be obvious. I'm neither using Srivener nor Zotero just yet, but am still in the process of figuring out what would be the best software-solution for me. However, this also makes it a lot more difficult to understand any tutorial as I'm not familiar with either programme.

    1. Hello Marlene. Many thanks for your comment! That’s an excellent question and the answer certainly isn’t obvious. You should be able to add the page number in Step 6, using the format I outline in Step 8. Hope that helps.

  3. Thank you for the post. However, I would like to know, if there is any way I can add multiple citations under one footnote in a Scrievener document using Zotero? I tried, but failed!!!!

    1. Hello Anthony. Good question! The scanner will merge any citation markers that are directly adjacent. So, select your multiple items in Zotero, copy them in the scannable format, then paste them into your Scrivener footnote. When you run everything through RTFundefinedODF-Scan at the end, it should merge them into one footnote in the outputed document. Does that work for you?

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